The situation at closer not open and shut

The Baltimore Sun

Chris Ray woke up yesterday morning as the Orioles' closer. He had the same job when he boarded the team charter for Chicago, and nothing was expected to change tonight when he takes a seat in the bullpen.

That doesn't mean his role will be exactly the same.

After Ray lost his sixth game Friday night, allowing a two-run homer to the Los Angeles Angels' Howie Kendrick that broke a 7-7 tie in the ninth inning and left his ERA at 5.15, interim manager Dave Trembley said he wanted to remove some pressure from the right-hander. He could accomplish this by reducing how often Ray is used, and in which situation.

"I think it would be in everybody's best interest if we could get Ray out of being the closer exclusively on this club," Trembley said.

Trembley stressed that Ray remains the primary closer, but he also noted that other relievers on the team are capable of doing it. He mentioned veteran Paul Shuey, who recorded his first save since 2002 Saturday night, and Danys Baez, who should come off the disabled list immediately after the All-Star break.

"I think Shuey showed he can do it," Trembley said. "I think when Baez comes back, you have to go back to the plan that was really put in place for him. Why he came here was to kind of be a buffer for Ray and pick up the slack every once in a while and close some games.

"By no means am I going to take away Chris Ray's opportunities to close the game. On the other hand, if I think it's in the best interest of the team to put somebody else out there, and I'm not told differently, I'll do it."

Trembley said Ray, 25, isn't in jeopardy of losing the closer's job permanently and added it's not a decision he would make alone.

"Not until Mike [Flanagan] and Jim [Duquette] tell me that," Trembley said. "I think Chris Ray is the closer on the team."

Before Saturday's win, Trembley told Ray that regardless of the situation, he would not enter the game. Trembley told reporters later that the news was met with a sigh of relief from his young closer, and Ray acknowledged yesterday that he welcomed the break.

"It's nice to know before you go out there that you have the day off," Ray said. "It's a nice mental break. You can just go out there and relax."

Ray appeared in three of four games before Saturday, allowing runs Thursday and Friday, but said he said he isn't overworked. He has pitched in 37 games.

"Everyone in the bullpen has been throwing a lot," Ray said. "You've just got to go out there and throw."

Baez on track

Baez didn't report any discomfort in his right forearm after Saturday's bullpen session, giving him clearance to head to the minors on a rehabilitation assignment.

The Orioles want him to throw off a mound at Single-A Frederick today, then report to Double-A Bowie and pitch Thursday, Saturday and next Monday. Barring a setback, he would be activated July 12.

"It feels good today," he said.

Looking for a rhythm

Once again, left-hander Kurt Birkins has gone from starter at Triple-A Norfolk to spectator in the Orioles' bullpen.

Birkins is the designated long reliever on a team that doesn't often need one. He has twice reported to the Orioles this season, making one appearance each time.

In his first game in April, Birkins surrendered a grand slam to the Detroit Tigers' Craig Monroe in the 12th inning. He allowed three runs in three innings against the Cleveland Indians the next month, leaving his ERA at 15.75.

"It would be good to get up here and actually get into some kind of flow," Birkins said. "In the past, I sat and sat and sat and finally got in, and the results aren't what anybody would have wanted."

Around the horn

Trembley said he'll know today which pitcher will take Steve Trachsel's turn in the rotation Wednesday. Rob Bell and Garrett Olson are the leading candidates. ... Reliever Scott Williamson didn't require a magnetic resonance imaging on his sore left foot, and he expects to be available tonight or tomorrow.

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